Motivation and emotion/Book/About/Collaborative authoring using wiki

Collaborative authoring using wiki:
An open education case study

James T. Neill
Discipline of Psychology, University of Canberra

Target journal: International Journal for Students as Partners
Section: Case study (maximum 3,000 words)


This case study describes a collaborative online authoring project in which undergraduate psychology students co-produce open educational resources. Over 1,300 chapters and videos about how psychological science can improve people's motivational and emotional lives have been created. Wikiversity serves as a simple, yet powerful, editing and hosting platform. Key principles of the learning and assessment exercise include open education, guided experiential learning, and self-determined learning. Scaffolding, skill development, and formative feedback are also key ingredients for project success. Potential issues (reconceived as educational opportunities) include negotiating privacy and anonymity, copyright, individual versus collective work, and staff-student collegiality. The principles and methods are adaptable to a wide variety of disciplines and educational contexts. Collaborative online authoring exercises offer real-world benefits over the traditional essay in higher education.


collaborative writing, open education, open educational resources, assessment, wiki


This case study describes a collaborative online authoring project which seeks to address two practical educational problems:

  • Most writing by higher education students is individual; yet in the professional world, collaborative writing is common.
  • Most writing by higher education students is private; yet students are capable of creating useful public resources.

The ongoing, staff-initiated, whole-of-class, semester-long, collaborative, online, authoring exercise has been conducted is conducted in the context of an undergraduate psychology unit. The vision is to engage students in "co-creating" (Bovill, 2019) or "co-producing" (McCulloch, 2009) open educational resources (OERs) about how people can improve their lives, become happier, and achieve their dreams, based on theory and research from psychological science about motivation and emotion. The project is hosted on Wikiversity, supported by the non-profit Wikimedia Foundation (WMF) MediaWiki software and servers.

The project's open pedagogical principles, methods, issues, and outcomes, including student feedback, are discussed. Collaborative online authoring develops in-depth discipline knowledge, OERs, and 21st century graduate attributes such as digital fluency and global citizenship. By curating real-world artifacts, learners also develop evidence of their capacity for post-graduate study and professional work. The approach is robust, flexible, and applicable to a wide variety of disciplines and educational contexts.

How it worksEdit

The concept is simple: Each student creates a "book chapter" and a corresponding "multimedia presentation" about a unique topic in a collaborative, online space as part of their assessment for a higher education unit of study.

The collaborative authoring approach builds on the traditional essay in which each student writes and submits a private document for academic credit. The traditional essay typically goes no further; it is what Wiley (2013) called a "disposable assignment". A collaborative authoring approach is more dynamic. The resources are live online, have multiple authors, and a clear edit history. Version control allows reviewing and undoing of any unwanted edits. The OERs are highly accessible and can be used and built upon by others.

Collaborative writing projects need a theme or focus. In this case, the theme is "Understanding and improving our motivational and emotional lives using psychological science". This theme aligns with the Motivation and Emotion unit's learning outcomes which are for students to learn to:

  1. integrate psychological theories and current research towards explaining the role of motivation and emotions in human behaviour
  2. critically apply knowledge of motivation or emotion to an indepth understanding of a specific topic in this field.

These learning outcomes guide the book chapter and multimedia presentation marking criteria which emphasise critically reviewing, synthesising, and summarising scientific theory and research and communicating to a global audience about how this knowledge can be used to solve human problems. The OERs are scientifically informed, but also readable by a lay audience.

Everything else is arguably trivial or technical. A collaborative online editing platform is needed. Wikiversity (a sister project of Wikipedia) is recommended because it is freely available, openly licensed, supported by a large non-profit organisation, has an excellent track-record of platform stability and governance, continues to improve its usability and functionality for users and editors, and allows for a wider scope of student contributions than Wikipedia (Neill, 2022).

Students create WMF accounts using pseudonyms or real names depending on their privacy preferences. Students often start cautiously by using pseudonyms, but then realise the value of attaching their real name to evidence of their professional capability. In such cases, usernames can be changed.

Each student signs up to, or negotiates, a unique topic. Topics consist of a title and a sub-title. For example:

Sub-titles are in the form of open-ended questions which help to guide and structure the chapter and presentation. Authors also encouraged to develop focus questions which expand on the sub-title. A list of approved topics and usernames is maintained (e.g., see the 2022 table of contents).

Each student plans, writes, and curates (Ungerer, 2016) the content for a single topic. Students also contribute to other chapters by direct editing and/or commenting. These "social contributions" are incentivised by allocating 10% of the book chapter marking criteria to their quality, quantity, and timeliness. Social contributions are logged and publicly available via each contributor's user page. Bonus marks are awarded for exceptional contributions.

In addition to written text, students add "learning features" which help bring the chapter to "life". Useful learning features include a table of contents, hyperlinking key words to further information, tables, figures, case studies, quizzes, and so on. Students also create a three-minute multimedia overview of the topic.

Each student cohort contributes 100 or so chapters to the collection which has grown to over 1,300 chapters since since 2010. If a chapter is incomplete or unsatisfactory, it is relisted for the following cohort until a satisfactory chapter is developed. There is no concern about "running out of topics" because each chapter potentially spawns other related chapters, new knowledge is being continually developed, and there are plenty of applied problems.

Wiki as a platformEdit

Collaborative online authoring projects can, in theory, use any server-based content management software platform. However, wikis offer some unique characteristics and benefits that make them particularly suitable for academic and educational collaborative authoring projects.

Wiki means quick in Hawaiian. Wikis were designed as the simplest webpages that are viewable and editable by anyone with internet access. Wikis serve a wide variety of purposes. The most popular wiki ecosystem is hosted by the WMF, a non-profit organisation which supports servers, software, and staffing to manage volunteer editing of Wikipedia and its sister projects. The sister projects include Wikiversity for education and research, Wikibooks for e-books, Wiktionary as a dictionary, Wikinews for news, Wikispecies as a species directory, and several more.

Whilst all WMF sister projects are of potential interest to educators, Wikiversity is particularly relevant because it is dedicated to developing and sharing educational and research activities. All WMF wiki content is openly editable and openly licensed. There is a WMF-supported Wiki Education program which focuses on fostering student contributions to Wikipedia. Many of the principles used in Wikipedia classroom projects (e.g., Campbell, 2019; Ingallinella, 2022) also apply to learning projects hosted on sister wikis such as Wikiversity.

Assessment and feedbackEdit

Collaborative online editing projects provide rich opportunities for formative and summative assessment and feedback. Complex projects should be scaffolded into stages. For example, the motivation and emotion project stages are topic selection, topic development (chapter plan), book chapter, and multimedia presentation. Each stage provides assessment and feedback opportunities. Formative feedback is also provided on an ongoing basis by student peers, instructors, and the broader community, as each student's project develops.


Collaborative online authoring projects benefit from articulation of their pedagogical principles. Three key ideas guide the motivation and emotion project: open education, guided experiential learning, and self-determined learning. These principles are broadly consistent with open pedagogy (e.g., see Neill, 2019; Wiley, 2013). This approach is likely to work well with teachers who relinquish authoritarian posturing and position themselves alongside students as a "meddler-in-the-middle" (McWilliam, 2008) by undertaking the role of collaborator, co-editor, and shared problem-solver.

Open educationEdit

Open education is a core aspect of collaborative online authoring projects. A key role of universities is to share knowledge with the broader community. Much university content that has been traditionally closed (such as student work) could fruitfully be made open. Open academia (Neill, 2010) includes open education and open pedagogical principles which emphasise experiential engagement in co-creation of OERs. Involving students in real-world tasks such as developing OERs can help to foster workplace readiness (Gregory-Ellis, 2022; McCulloch, 2009), particularly when the resources have a live, global audience.

Online collaboration skills are increasingly important for professional work, yet surprisingly few higher education learning and assessment tasks use real-world online environments. Most educational institutions use closed learning management systems that students are unlikely to encounter in their working lives. Students can be better prepared for professional work if they are encouraged and supported to try out, test, and learn how to use real-world platforms during their higher education experiences with expert tuition and guidance.

Guided experiential learningEdit

Learning by experience (active learning) can be powerful (Healey et al., 2014). However, experiential learning needs scaffolding and guidance to the extent that the tasks and environment are unfamiliar. Students are invited, encouraged, and facilitated to edit and develop online content, but it doesn't happen without support. Learning how to navigate, engage, and contribute to a collaborative editing environment is initially challenging for students, so they need training and guidance.

An important first step is to cultivate a culture which encourages and supports students to take risks and experiment in order to learn. For example, "be bold" is an official policy on WMF sister projects. This policy helps to communicate an important realisation that nothing can be broken or lost on a wiki, mistakes can be easily changed or undone through version control, and resources move forward through iterative editing.

Peer learning is also powerful. The instructor should cultivate a welcoming environment and provide positive feedback about students' early editing efforts. Once a small number of students break through the initial editing barriers it paves the way for their peers to start editing and learning through their own experience. Thus, the project's social dynamics should be actively facilitated by the instructor to create a supportive, experiential learning atmosphere.

Self-determined learningEdit

Collaborative online authoring projects foster, and benefit from, self-determined learning. Authoring an online synthesis of psychological science about a specific topic may seem daunting and unworkable. Yet, it becomes an achievable and rewarding challenge once sufficient self-efficacy is developed and a community of practice evolves. Self-determined learning emerges to the extent that three basic psychological needs are engaged and satisfied:

  • Autonomy: is fostered by explaining the rationale for the project and empowering students to choose or negotiate a topic of interest and then giving each student the responsibility of stewarding the curation of content about that topic.
  • Competence: is developed by providing a challenging task with step-by-step explanation, demonstration, and guided experiential learning. Students submit a plan or early draft to get instructor feedback. Peer learning is also powerful for knowledge and skill development and is worth incentivising.
  • Relatedness grows through the micro-interactions between students and staff as they built trust in one another and in the process of collaboratively reading, contributing, editing, and discussing one another's work. Unwanted edits or interactions are rare, usually innocent, and easily fixed.

Issues and opportunitiesEdit

A solution-focused approach is modelled whereby "issues" are reframed as "teachable moments" and opportunities for collaborative problem solving. Issues are addressed as they arise through staff-student collaboration. The most common points of tension and subsequent learning are negotiating privacy and anonymity, intellectual property and copyright, individual versus collective work, and staff-student collegiality.

Privacy and anonymityEdit

Students often express trepidation about editing in a public wiki space due to perceived threats to their sense of privacy and anonymity. This is an opportunity for students to wrestle with their emerging professional identity. Students are encouraged to consider and choose their desired level of privacy and anonymity. Options include:

  1. Revealing one's real identity (via username and bio) and attaching it to their editing history. This can be advantageous (e.g., the work can be linked from a resumé or curriculum vitae)
  2. Using a pseudonym. This is recommended for students who do not wish to be publicly associated with their editing. In this case, only the instructor needs to know the user's identity, for marking purposes

It is not uncommon for students who use a pseudonym to subsequently develop trust in the process and pride in their work. In these cases, the user account can be renamed.

Intellectual property and copyrightEdit

Students own the intellectual property for their university assignments. When using a publicly available platform, like Wikiversity, students need to learn about copyright and what it means to contribute their work under open licenses. Although there are many benefits of student and staff contributions to public resources (Campbell, 2019), if a student is unwilling to accept these terms, an alternative format is negotiated.

Individual versus collective workEdit

Some students prefer individual work, whereas others prefer group-based work. It is challenging to find an optimal balance. However, learning and assessment tasks which blend individual and group work offer a way to foster collaborative (Limerick & Cunningham, 1993) or communitarian (McCulloch, 2009) individualism. Whilst each student is primarily responsible for creating a single chapter, they are also rewarded for contributing to the work of others, which combines individual and collective learning.

Staff-student collegialityEdit

To help create a collaborative editing environment, the hierarchical relationship implied by terms such as "teacher" and "student" should be reconsidered. Teachers can be referred to as facilitators, editors, or collaborators. Their role is to contribute ideas, co-edit, provide feedback, and help troubleshoot. Student can be referred to as participants, emerging scholars, or creators. This role involves authoring, editing, curating, discussing, and providing feedback. Subtle shifts in language can help to foster a collegial and collaborative culture. As Matthews (2017) notes, pursuing a students as partners approach without adopting emancipatory language, values, or intentions diminishes its transformative potential.

Project outcomesEdit

Reflecting on how the collaborative online authoring project has evolved, the main outcomes are:

  • Provision of a novel, feedback-rich, transformational undergraduate capstone project
  • Principles and methods are adaptable to a wide range of disciplines and educational levels
  • OERs are developed through authentic staff-student collaboration
  • Each student's project provides real-world evidence of their professional knowledge and skills
  • Metaliteracy (Mackey & Jacobson, 2011) and digital fluency graduate attributes, such as using and evaluating new technologies and learning to work together in a global environment, are developed

There are several additional benefits for students, including:

  • As a showcase of their capabilities, the project has helped some students into employment. For example, one student wrote: "my book chapter on nutrition and anxiety in 2020 helped me get my dream job working as a prov psych in that field. It was my favourite unit and topic - so I wanted to say, thank you!"
  • Some students have followed up their topic further in post-graduate research. For example, one student authored a chapter about grit, followed by a grit-related Honours thesis (Boerma & Neill, 2020) and a grit-related Master thesis (Boerma et al., 2020).

Anonymous student feedback about the Motivation and Emotion unit indicates very high (96% strongly agree or agree) satisfaction. Many of the open-ended comments are about the collaborative online project.

The positive feedback themes are:

  • Well structured
  • Enjoyable (challenging but rewarding)
  • Creative freedom enhances motivation
  • Appreciate detailed feedback

The critical feedback themes are:

  • Difficulty learning how to use Wikiversity
  • Uncomfortable with public nature of student work on Wikiversity
  • Unable to see career relevance of using Wikiversity

The critical feedback highlights the need to support students in learning how to edit collaboratively online. This has led to scaffolding the project into four main stages (sign-up, topic development, book chapter, and multimedia presentation). A one-hour lecture explains the rationale for project and how it works. A one-hour tutorial guides students through the basics of how to edit. Live drop-in trouble-shooting sessions are provided throughout semester and there is an active discussion forum. For most students, this multi-pronged support is sufficient, however there is always scope for improving just-in-time learning to help meet the needs of all students.

To understand the purpose of the project, students need an explanation of the knowledge commons and why and how to contribute. Students have typically been schooled in a culture of disposable assignments, so may take a while to orient to the nature of public editing. Several videos are used to highlight the possibilities of open editing. For example, the WMF's "Wikipedia - An investment for your future; your children's future" video explains the diverse, global nature of Wikipedia editors, united by the common purpose of making the sum of human knowledge available to all.

The career relevance of a collaborative online authoring project may not be obvious to some students, so it should be explicitly discussed. The point of the exercise is much less about learning how to edit on any specific platform, but rather to develop confidence and skills in editing, communicating, discussing, giving and receiving feedback, and resolving problems in an online environment. In the final tutorial, some time is spent building a collaborative resumé that captures the generic skills developed through participation in the project.


This case study described a novel, open education, wiki-based, learning and assessment exercise in the context of higher education. The collaborative online authoring principles (open education, guided experiential learning, and self-determined learning) and methods are flexible and adaptable to a wide variety of disciplines and educational levels, although the specific approach described in this article is likely to best suit an advanced undergraduate level and can serve as a transformational capstone project. The WMF wikis provide well-tested editing and hosting environments, but any collaborative editing platform could be used. Scaffolding, skill development, and social dynamic facilitation are important teacher responsibilities because the editing environment and processes are typically unfamiliar to students. Engaging students in open knowledge projects develops in-depth discipline knowledge, 21st century generic skills, and OERs.

Note on contributorEdit

James T. Neill is an Assistant Professor in the Discipline of Psychology at the University of Canberra. He has a passion for open academia. James has convened the Motivation and Emotion unit since 2010.

See alsoEdit


Boerma, M., & Neill, J. (2020). The role of grit and self-control in university student academic achievement and satisfaction. College Student Journal, 54(4), 431–442.

Boerma, M. J., Neill, J., & Brown, P. M. (2020). Perseverance of effort moderates the relationship between psychological distress and life satisfaction. European Journal of Applied Positive Psychology, 4, 1–11.

Bovill, C. (2019). A co-creation of learning and teaching typology: What kind of co-creation are you planning or doing? International Journal for Students as Partners, 3(2), 91–98.

Campbell, G. (2019, June 21). Catalyzing deeper learning in the humanities with wiki education. Wiki Education.

Gregory-Ellis, C. (2022). Experiences of creating digital content for teaching and learning through working in staff-student partnerships. International Journal for Students as Partners, 6(2), 12–26.

Healey, M., Flint, A., & Harrington, K. (2014). Engagement through partnership: Students as partners in learning and teaching in higher education. The Higher Education Academy.

Ingallinella, L. (2022). Foul tales, public knowledge: Bringing Dante's 'Divine Comedy' to Wikipedia. Bibliotheca Dantesca: Journal of Dante Studies, 5(9).

Limerick, D., Cunningham, B., Limerick, D., & Cunningham, B. (1993). Collaborative individualism and the end of the corporate citizen. In Managing the new organisation: Collaboration and sustainability in the post-corporate world. Business and Professional Publishing.

Mackey, T. P., & Jacobson, T. E. (2011). Reframing information literacy as a metaliteracy. College & Research Libraries, 72(1), 62–78.

Matthews, K. E. (2017). Five propositions for genuine students as partners practice. International Journal for Students as Partners, 1(2).

McCulloch, A. (2009). The student as co-producer: Learning from public administration about the student-university relationship. Studies in Higher Education, 34(2), 171–183.

McWilliam, E. (2008). Unlearning how to teach. Innovations in Education and Teaching International, 45(3), 263–269.

Neill, J. T. (2010). Open academia: A philosophy of open practice. Presentation to the Intellectual Property Mini-conference, 11 June, University of Canberra, Australia.

Neill, J. T. (2019). Open education in psychology. Presentation to the Australian Psychology Learning and Teaching Conference, 15–19 September, Catholic Leadership Centre, Melbourne, Australia.

Neill, J. T. (2022). Using Wikiversity for teaching and learning. Presentation to Wikipedia and Education in the Time of the "Crisis of Information", 16 September, University of Canberra, Australia.

Ungerer, L. M. (2016). Digital curation as a core competency in current learning and literacy: A higher education perspective. The International Review of Research in Open and Distributed Learning, 17(5).

Wiley. D. (2013, 21 October). What is open pedagogy? Improving Learning.

External linksEdit